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Engineering advice in policy making: a new domain of inquiry in evidence and policy

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Background: Academic research on technical advice to policy commonly focuses on social and related policy areas such as health, education and crime (Oliver et al. 2014) and disciplinary advice from science disciplines (Jasanoff 1994; Millstone and van Zwanenberg 2001). Little or no prior research in the social sciences have explored engineering expertise in policy domains where such advice is critical (e.g. energy policy).

Aims and objectives: We aim to establish ‘engineering advice’ as a new domain of inquiry by showing how civil servants view it as distinctive (from ‘science advice’), important and similar to policy making ‐ implying it can clash or complement it.

Methods: 18 qualitative interviews with a purposive sample of officials across a UK ministry were conducted by the authors (all but one of whom were civil servants) in 2012. The qualitative data were thematically coded to address the study aims.

Findings: A majority of officials spontaneously identified engineering expertise as both distinctive and important for their work. There was clear evidence that it both complemented and clashed with policymaking.

Discussion and conclusions: We identified a range of interactions that imply a need to consider styles of management internal deployment of experts within policy organisations as well as the implications for policy making and engineering expertise given the way practices overlap. Further research on the ontological, epistemological nature of engineering as it relates to policy making is needed if governments and therefore society are to fully benefit from engineering advice.
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Keywords: engineering advice; evidence-based policy making; expertise; science advice

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University College London, UK 2: Cardiff University, UK 3: UK National Infrastructure Commission, UK 4: UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UK

Publication date: August 2021

This article was made available online on April 20, 2020 as a Fast Track article with title: "Engineering advice in policy making: a new domain of inquiry in evidence and policy".

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